Now Allie spoke beautifully this morning about forgiveness, about how special today’s parsha is in the reconciliation scene between Joseph and his brothers—the same brothers who so hated him that they sold him into slavery without a second thought.
Here they stand before him, in his own palace in Egypt where he has become a big macher, the viceroy, and he has a golden opportunity to tell them off, to rant and rave, to let them know just how horrible he thins they were to him…and what does he do? He cries. He weeps, real tears.
I want to spend a moment thinking about those tears with you.
This is the third time Joseph has cried, but its totally different. In the first two instances—in Genesis 42 and 43—he withdraws in embarrassment from his tears. He weeps alone in a room, not wanting his brothers or the Egyptians to see or hear him.
Now, in the reconciliation scene, Joseph weeps out loud. The Torah tells us in verses 1-3 of chapter 45 in today’s parsha: ”Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, "Have everyone withdraw from me!" So there was no one else about when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh's palace…”
Rather than himself withdrawing to cry in private, he tells everyone else to withdraw, and sobs. Sobs so loud that all of Egypt could hear. A whole verse is given to the description of the weeping, as it echoes through the palace.
But the brothers are there. They can hear Joseph wailing. They cannot believe it. They are dumbstruck. They cannot speak.
Until verse 15, after a bit of chitchat and asking about his father, Joseph does the one other thing he needed to do: “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk to him.”
Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey of the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that reflex tears—the kind we get when something irritates our eyes or when we have allergies— are 98% water, whereas emotional tears—released through either intense experiences pf joy or sorrow— contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body. Volunteers in his study were led to cry first from watching sad movies, and then from freshly cut onions. The researchers found that the tears from the movies, called emotional tears, contained far more toxic biological byproducts. Weeping, they concluded, is a process which removes toxic substances that normally build up during emotional stress.
So its good to cry. Physically and emotionally.
The rabbis even believe that the angels and that G-d weeps. In the midrash on the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, the tears of the angels fall upon Abraham’s knife, so that it could not cut Isaac's throat. In Lamentations Rabbah, the midrash to the Book of Eicha, G-d watches the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem, and becomes overcome with grief. The midrash imagines this scene: “In that instant the angel Metatron came, fell upon his face, and spoke before the Holy One: ‘Master of the universe, let me weep, but You must not weep.’ God replied, ‘If you do not let Me weep, I will go into a place where you have no authority to enter, and I will weep there.’”
And Joseph is not the first man of the Torah to cry; he’s not our “Vernon Davis.” Ishmael cries in Genesis 21. Esau, the big hairy hunter, cries in chapter 27. Jacob cries in joy when he marries Rachel in chapter 29 and cries in sorrow when he is told that Joseph is dead in chapter 37. There’s a whole lotta big men crying in the first book of the Torah.
As a Rabbi, I get the privilege of sharing a lot of tears. But I cannot tell you how many times I also hear apologies. “I’m sorry I’m so emotional.” “Forgive me for tearing up.” Why do we apologize?
At funerals, of course; those tears are often copious and heartfelt but occasionally they are insincere and you wonder, “you loved her so much, maybe you could've told her while she was alive?” And at babynamings, especially grandparents tears, and I can see the bubble over their heads “I never thought I’d live to see this day….” and sometimes maybe “and may this child give you the aggravation you once gave me…:” And at Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, of course, parents so proud and filled with joy. And weddings? I personally consider myself a failure at officiating a wedding if I don’t produce at least a two-hanky affair. From the father of the bride—the mom’s easy, if she’s not worrying too much about whether the hors d’ouvres are coming out at the right time.
Because Judaism frowns on a tragic outlook on life, crying is often paired with laughter. The Book of Psalms tells us repeatedly that crying is merely a first step toward redemption. Thus we have: ba-erev yalin bekhi ve-la-boker rinah, which we sing on the high holidays: “weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning.” And the famous verse in Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals we will sing today after lunch: ha-zor’im be-dim'a be-rina yiktzoru, "They who sow in tears will reap in joy.”
There is always hope that joy will come in the morning. Allie maybe thats why Joseph’s brothers are forgiven by Joseph even though they don’t “deserve” to be. Joseph always had hope that things would be better.
Steven, I cried with you when you sat shiva for your dad just last April. And today I cry with joy for you.
Allie, you have a wonderful family who have nurtured you in your Jewish journey. Not every kid can say they studied their parsha as the only Jew in Lund, Sweden. You came to us as new members but have fast become a real part of our community. We look forward to more times of joy with you ahead.
It is tempting, though, to see this Bat Mitzvah as an exception to the rule, as a much-needed light in a dark world. In the darkest time of the year when we need lots of twinkling electric bulbs to remind us of the light.
I feel like we’ve spent a lot of time in 2015 crying. It has been such a difficult past few months in the world. But that is the beauty of Shabbat coming every week, not just when its convenient; of our having shul every week, not just when there is a Bat Mitzvah; of a family’s continuing commitment to Jewish education and Jewish values not just in the Bat Mitzvah prepatory year, as Allie continues in Chai School. So that, like Joseph, we can weep in front of everyone, kiss, and then turn to the work at hand: talking to each other, creating sacred times, building supportive community, and, as Allie taught us, reconciling people, one with the other.